The former bad boy of Chinese golf is out to reinvent himself as an intriguing combination of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar as Zhang Xinjun eyes success at this week’s PGA Tour China Series Clearwater Bay Open.
Zhang found himself in hot water with officials in 2014 after signing two incorrect scorecards during the inaugural season of the circuit and was banned for six months.
That did not stop Zhang finishing second on the order of merit that year before landing third a year later, and the 29-year-old has continued that form this year with runner-up finishes at the St Andrews Henan Open and most recently at the Pingan Bank Open last month to sit fifth on the current money list.
And Zhang heads to Clearwater Bay Golf Country following a tied for 21st place finish at last week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where he played over the weekend with world number two McIlroy, British Open champion Stenson and Olympic Games bronze medallist Kuchar.
“I learnt a lot from last week and it was an honour playing with Rory, Stenson and Matt Kuchar. Rory is my hero so I wanted to play with him before last week and I was able to achieve that so I am very happy,” said Zhang.
“I learnt a lot from last week especially how Rory plays when he makes a mistake and also how Stenson steadies his game. I also learnt from Kuchar how he does not get too excited when he plays well and does not get too frustrated when he does not play well, so maybe I need to play more peacefully when I play my game.”
Zhang, who won once in each of the last two seasons on the PGA Tour China Series, was inside the top 10 for the first three rounds in Shanghai before fading with a four-over-par final round to slip down the leaderboard.
“My game is very good. I played three rounds very good last week because I didn’t think too much, but on the last day I thought too much as I had a high goal and I didn’t finish well for the last round,” added Zhang, who was tied eighth at nine-under after three rounds last week.
Watch: Can Hong Kong’s Jason Hak Shun-yat challenge Zhang Xinjun this week?
“So this week, I will take experience from last week and hope I can have a good finish this week.”
Zhang is one of the leading contenders for this week’s Clearwater Bay Open alongside Hong Kong’s Jason Hak Shun-yat, American Charlie Saxon and current order of merit leader Dou Zecheng from China as the event kicks-off the final four events of the China Series this month.
“I played OK for the last nine events even though I have two second places finishes, but no wins, but for the next two tournaments I want to win,” said Zhang.